Jane Hunt has spent a great portion of a long journalistic career covering netball, both in mainstream media and more latterly as freelancer. That has included a heavy investment in the ANZ championship, in various capacities, and she now takes a look back on the impact this breakthrough competition has had on the netballing landscape.
When the final whistle sounded at the end of a pulsating 2016 ANZ Championship Grand Final, there was a tinge of sadness. It was the end of an era, the final act of a nine-year competition which the sport was more than ready for when ushered in with great fanfare in 2008.
The introduction of a new-look semi-professional trans-Tasman competition featuring five teams each from New Zealand and Australia marked the dawning of a new era for netball. And over the ensuing years it continued to deliver an immeasurable amount of good for the sport.
In showcasing the best talent from across Australasia, the competition continued to grow in intensity and the quality of performance it delivered. It was further enhanced by the inclusion of imports from England and Jamaica, and more latterly Malawi, the international flavour heightening interest and stretching the competition’s boundaries
Spanning 17 weeks and with the majority of games televised live each season, it provided a fantastic platform to broaden netball’s appeal which it did in spades. Viewing audiences continued to grow throughout the competition, it proved a viable commercial entity and teams built strong local community support bases.
But most importantly of all, women’s sport, and netball, in particular, gained a new respect. The ANZ Championship allowed it to break through traditional male-dominated barriers to establish its own niche as a top-quality sporting spectacle.
Traditional "netties" were joined by a diverse section of the community, wowed by the sheer athleticism and skill factor being produced on court week-in week-out, to become avid fans, across both genders.
That included media coverage where in a bygone era male journalists were not exactly falling over themselves to become netball reporters. That is not the case now.
Media coverage across all platforms has increased exponentially, this isn’t entirely foreign in New Zealand but for Australia it has been a welcome bonanza. Netball has ridden the wave and its players are now household names.
The ANZ Championship has done its job and will go down as a turning point in netball’s history. It’s now time to take the next step in its evolution.